One language sets you a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” ~ Frank Smith.

I’m certainly not a fluent polyglot, although I really wish I were! During my travels I can admit I’ve had so many positive encounters with locals solely because I’ve learnt the language of my destination. With tonnes of different resources available it’s never been easier to teach yourself. The best news is you don’t have to be totally fluent. On the contrary, far from it!

Get ready for me to spill secrets! Below I reveal the 6 essential resources I use to learn language for my travels.

Why should I learn language for travel?

Firstly, I’ll give you a little backstory as to why I’m so passionate about learning language for travel.

My first visit to France I was linguistically unprepared. I’d barely learnt French beforehand but had learnt a little Spanish. And it showed. I kept getting the words confused (because Spanish and French share many similar words) and it resulted in a hostile reception from many locals I encountered… Oops!

You can see why the French have a reputation for being rude… Wait. Was it them, or was it something I was doing?

I can tell you it was all me.

I found out that I needed to learn language for travel, and fast
Back where it all began – My first visit to France in 2008. Damn those negative linguistic experiences!

It was a completely negative experience and it drew attention to the fact I was a tourist. I may as well have had a flashing neon sign on my forehead! Noooo! I didn’t want to fall into one of these stereotypes! So when I revisited France a year later, I was determined to learn as much French as possible so I could be an Invisible Tourist this time.

It seriously made all the difference and since then I’ve learnt languages for almost every country I have visited. It’s easier than you think and there are many benefits.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” ~ Nelson Mandela

Benefits of learning language for travel

  • If you can read signage in a foreign language you won’t need to ask for directions when you’re getting around. Looking like you know where you’re going won’t draw unwanted attention to you and you’re able to get where you need to go more efficiently.
  • It’s super handy for knowing what to order when you’re perusing a menu and inspecting the bill (check) at the conclusion of your meal.
  • Taxi drivers are less likely to rip you off if you greet them in their native tongue.
  • You’ll get a much warmer reception from locals if you can greet, farewell and speak a few basic phrases of their language. I can’t stress this enough!
  • As I mentioned in this post, your heart will be warmed knowing you warmed someone else’s purely because you spoke their language 💖 You’ll earn the highest level of respect from locals.
You can be sure of where you're going if you can read signs in foreign languages
You can be sure of where you’re going if you can read signs in foreign languages

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But how do I learn language for travel so fast?

By combining techniques from both free and paid resources, you’ll soon find your language learning groove. I’ll explain some options in detail below. The trick is to learn enough of the language so you can ask for help if you need it and tell locals a little about yourself whilst on your adventure. I strongly recommend learning a few essential phrases (and possible responses) of your target language as a bare minimum to get you by. This has worked wonders for me!

You don’t need to spend years becoming fluent. Just learn the words and phrases you’ll need — forget learning the rest. Think about:

  • Greetings: Saying hello and introducing yourself
  • Farewells: Saying goodbye, see you soon
  • Eating out: Ordering food, drinks, asking for the bill
  • Retail: Clothes sizing, buying items with credit cards
  • Asking where to find something: Toilets, points of interest, train platforms, restaurants
  • What to say in an emergency: Help, stop, thief, etc.

Direction sign in Prague, Czech Republic

Yes, that’s pretty much it. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use the last one but it’s useful to have up your sleeve!

It’s simple to become a pro within a few months or even weeks depending on how intense you want your learning journey to be. It’s entirely up to you.

Approaching a local speaking their language is like waving a golden ticket at them. How could they not want to help you if you show you’ve made the effort to learn about their native tongue? If you do this, 9 times out of 10 the local will be happy to speak in English anyway once they realise you’re a visitor, especially in Europe. It means they can practice their English and you’re off the hook! Win-win! If they can’t speak English you’ll have a funny conversation made up of hand gestures but at least you’ll be able to figure out the answer you needed and your exchange has been positive.

🔵🔵 RELATED: Traveller Stereotypes: What’s an Invisible Tourist? (Part 2)

Top resources I use to learn language for travel

Free Resources

Resource #1: Memrise

Memrise is an amazing little program that has courses based on user-content. It’s a unique way of learning because it’s fully personalised to you. It uses memes to help remember words or phrases of your target language. Yes, seriously. It makes learning fun! See the screenshots below.

I found this invaluable to learning the Japanese alphabets Hiragana and Katakana. If you’re a visual learner like me you’ll find it’s a very effective way to remember all the symbols and sounds! It’s available as a smartphone app and also desktop version.

Memrise Screenshots
Memrise in-app screenshots: #1 & 2 Japanese, #3 Russian

Resource #2: Duolingo

Duolingo drops you in the deep end, so to speak. It uses images of the words to introduce you steadily. But then the questions are made up of an entire sentence in the new language. You gradually learn as you go.

In saying that, sometimes Duolingo will have an easier phrase to remember than the ones featured in the Memrise courses so it’s good to use both. It helps to reinforce the phrases you learnt from Memrise and allows you to choose a phrase that works best for you.

Duolingo Screenshots
Duolingo in-app screenshots: Russian

Resource #3: Pinterest

Pinterest is a virtual “pinboard” that doubles as a search engine so you can explore thousands of “cheat sheets” and save them for easy reference later. It’s loaded with handy images and infographics, which are awesome for learning the basic phrases of your target language in a visual way. You can find more info and ideas here.

Language for Travel: Pinterest
Examples of “cheat sheets” you can find on Pinterest to learn languages efficiently

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Paid Resources

Get your hands (and ears) onto some audio resources. Listening to the audio in the car or on the train during my daily commute to work helped me hear the correct pronunciation and speak with the correct accents. Here are some I have used and recommend:

Resource #4: Lonely Planet Phrasebooks and Audio

With their strong reputation Lonely Planet is the industry leader when it comes to learning language for travel. Their phrasebooks cover almost every situation you’d expect when travelling and provide the phonetics of foreign words. Compact and pocket-sized means they’re perfect for on the go!

Lonely Planet Phrasebook and Audio CD

Resource #5: Berlitz Phrasebooks and Audio 

After using Lonely Planet phrase books exclusively for years I was introduced to Berlitz phrasebooks by a paid language course I took at my community college. Although the content is very similar to Lonely Planet’s I found some of the Berlitz phrases were more simplified, which made them easier to say and remember. The phrasebooks are also compact and cover most travelling situations.

TIP: Specifically for Japanese – The Lonely Planet audio is useless for a beginner. The native speaks the Japanese phrases so fast and it’s very difficult for a beginner to determine what’s been said. Berlitz audio is a much better alternative.

Berlitz Phrasebook and Audio CD

Resource #6: Language for Travellers Courses

Your local university is likely to have short language courses designed specifically for travellers. Community colleges providing evening courses are also a great way to learn language for travel. You’ll get to meet other people heading to the same destination as you and it’s easy to attend the class after work.

Concluding learning a language for travel

Learning a little bit of a language is better than not learning any at all.

Our brains are all wired differently so what works well for one person may not suit someone else. That’s why it’s ideal to try several different resources to help you learn a language for travel. It will allow you to find a learning method that best suits you and hopefully engrain the necessary phases and words into your brain so you’ll be good to go.

Maybe, you’ll even be mistaken for a local in true Invisible Tourist style! 😉

What language basics have I learnt specifically for travelling? Rather, what languages do I hoard? There’s been quite a few! If you’re interested you can find out what a language hoarder is here and if you’re hungry to find out more mid-range budget travel resources you can find them here.

Do you have any tips for quickly learning a language to get you by during your travels? I’m always on the hunt for new ways of learning so if there’s a resource you’ve used and isn’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below, over on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest 📌

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist





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How to Learn Language for Travel Fast with These 6 Essential Resources | The Invisible Tourist

This article is not sponsored. I just wanted to share what’s worked best for me 😀

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How to Learn Language for Travel Fast with These 6 Essential Resources | The Invisible Tourist


Alyse has spent 9 years travelling "The Invisible Tourist Way" and hopes to encourage fellow travellers to do so, too. A professional language hoarder, she can usually be found burying herself in travel books and Wikipedia articles. Her dreams? Always about the next destination and how to make the most of the experience.

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